Like Nick Drake before her, Julie Byrne’s Not Even Happiness is quiet and pensive, yet complex musically and emotionally. Like many singer/songwriter and folk albums, many of the songs on the album feature only two instruments: voice and guitar. Aside from that, there are two tracks that are entirely synthesizer based (“Interlude” and “I Live Now As A Singer”), and just a couple more that feature a synth in the background. Overall, it makes for one sparse record. However, this is actually one of the main strengths of the album.
The pared down instrumentation combined with Byrne’s deep, resonant, yet whispery voice reflect the sort of intimacy of a friend telling you several personal secrets in a comfortable, familiar space. In a sense, that is exactly what Byrne is doing. Most of the lyrics on Not Even Happiness seem to reflect very specific moments that evoke specific emotions. Byrne’s music invites the listener in on these vividly painted scenes. In “Natural Blue”, she describes a vivid scene where the “sun split ember”, the “fields…span both ways forever”, and the “sky [is a] natural blue”.
There is a subtle, distant aching carried throughout the entire album. Not necessarily a sad or regretful ache (despite the album title), but one that reflects the idea that these aforementioned moments she describes are ephemeral. Byrne has been living much of her adult life as a vagabond, not only touring but also moving often. These tiny moments she experiences on tour or elsewhere are fleeting just as much for her as they are for us.
Recommended If You Like: Nick Drake, Julien Baker, Sun Kil Moon, Weyes Blood, Joni Mitchell, Julianna Barwick
Recommended Tracks: 4 (Natural Blue), 2 (Sleepwalker), 1 (Follow My Voice), 9 (I Live Now As A Singer)
Do Not Play: None
Written by Josh Gaston on 02/14/2017